Interesting format, worthy subject matter. This is a compendium of the accomplishments of musical women. Like nearly all compendia, it has its limitations, in this case being limited to women who sing and perform mostly in the English language or in the realms where English is spoken. That's okay. We like our language, our talented women and our female music, and we produce plenty of all three.
The range of musical genres highlighted is wide, from rock to opera, and the book is presented in a decade-to-decade, month-by-month and day-by-day format. In the early years, beginning in 1873, we have mainly only birthdates: Ma Rainey was born in 1886, Ethel Waters and Bessie Smith in 1895, and Sarah Daugherty of the Carter Family in 1898. The earliest known female chart debut was in 1905 when Ada Jones, known as the "First Lady of the American Phonograph," reached Number
Three with "My Carolina Lady."
And so it goes, with the charting debuts and lifetimes of work picking up speed into the teens of the 20th century, with the birth of Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf, and Lena Horne, Pearl Bailey and Ella (please don't say "Ella who?"). By the 1930s, we have Ethel Merman recording "How Deep Is the Ocean" and the Boswell Sisters presaging a far-off new concept with their chart hit "Rock and Roll."
The same year that Joan Baez and Buffy Ste. Marie were born, an older established generation was already producing what we now call "standards" - Judy Garland, Dinah Shore and Ella (don't ask "Ella who?"), to name a few. In 1950,
the hits were diverse - from"If I'd Known You Were Coming I'd Have Baked a Cake" by Ethel Merman to "La Vie en Rose" by Edith Piaf, which rose to
Number 23 in its translated American version.
The Sixties were a time when music really ran away from its past, with Motown, blues and rock vying with pure folk tones for places on the charts. The incomparable Tina Turner and her then-husband Ike released "A Fool in Love"; Connie Frances was the first female vocalist to get two back-to-back No.
One hits; Brenda Lee cut "Emotions"; Joan Baez had a top-selling album of "sparsely accompanied, pristine" folk songs; Carole King had her first chart single, "It Might as Well Rain Until September"; groups like the Shangri-Las, the Ronettes and Martha and the Vandellas were wowing audiences on tour, and names like Cher and Janis Joplin were starting to make a stir.
The book takes us up to the "Naughties" of the twenty-first century - Madoona, Bjork, Kelis, and Courtney Love, to name a few. But there were echoes from the not-so-distant past as Gillian Welch, Allison Krauss and Emmy Lou (please don't say, "Emmy Lou who?") made money and created new fans with their vocal contributions to the Oscar-winning film
O Brother Where Art Thou?, and the aging Diana Ross proved she could be naughty, too, with a drunk-driving charge.
This book is not without flaws - I caught several typos and repetitions that better editing would have cured - but it boldly goes where no collection has gone before, and we women are grateful for the recognition.
Too bad it wasn't a woman who thought up the idea.